Well rested after a night in Corrigan’s B&B (highly recommended), the weather took a turn for the worst with heavy morning downpours as I retraced my path back to Bellanaleck and 5kms back along the road towards Derrylin taking a left turn towards Carrybridge, crossing over the River Erne. From there I kept up my habit of sticking to traffic free local roads that ran close by the side of the Lough as I headed into Lisnaskea, a busy little market town.
The rain began to dry up and I deviated from my plan to head for Newtownbutler, instead opting to travel cross country to Magheraveely where I picked up the Kingfisher Trail once again.
It was stunning with all the beautiful autumn colours on display along the hedgerows of rural Fermanagh, helping to distract me from the ever more bumpy drumlin terrain as I made my way to the Ulster GAA mecca of Clones and onwards towards Monaghan Town. This border country was very isolated, with little traffic or people about – the route crisscrossed back and forth, and it was impossible to know where the invisible line actually lay. Not many around here take much note of it anyhow. The stretch between Killevan and Three Mile House was tough going after a long day in the saddle and I was glad when I eventually rolled into Monaghan Town.
Finally continuing my journey along Turas Columbanus
Trim to Navanto Slane
Everyone is familiar with the four provinces of Ireland – Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster but in ancient times, Ireland had five provinces! The Kingdom of Meath was the fifth Province and the county became known as the Royal County due to the Hill of Tara being the seat of the High King of Ireland.
The county is central to much of Ireland’s ancient history, from its world-famous Neolithic sites at Brú na Bóinne consisting of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. And many more besides which do not have the same footfall are equally mythical and mesmerising such as Loughcrew and Fourknocks Passage Tomb well worth a visit at some stage.
The road out from Trim is the Dublin road and a left turn after 3kms is on to a nice rural road, ideal for cycling and the first stop today after 10kms was at the ruins of Bective Abbey, situated close to the River Boyne. Ireland’s second Cistercian Abbey. The ruins are on the left at the crossroads. It is more famous today for being used in the 1995 movie Braveheart for the scene between the Princess and her maid. The cloisters are very well preserved, and the Abbey is a nice stopping off point.
Return to the crossroads and continue straight heading for Kilmessan village, one of the strongholds of Meath hurling.
Wheel left in the village and continue past the GAA club heading towards the first hill since we left Carlow – the most famous hill in Irish history, the Hill of Tara!
Tara is magical. It reaches right back into our pagan past.
In Irish mythology The Hill of Teamhair was the sacred place of the Gods and the entrance to the other world. It was important long before it became the seat of power of the Irish High Kings – 142 Kings are said to have reigned from here.
One of the great legends of Tara tells the story of Conn of the Hundred Battles. Conn and his druids mounted the ramparts of Tara to protect it from the people of the other world. He stood on the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, which was said to cry out when a true King entered Tara. The Lia Fáil stands at the top of the Hill in the centre of the mound.
A sacred place and it still has the feel and energy today.
St Patrick is said to have come to Tara to confront the pagan religion at its most powerful site.
The view from the top of the hill is incredible for such a low hill – it must be possible to see half the counties in Ireland. On the day I visited I reckon I could see as far as our starting point on Mount Leinster in Carlow, to Galway in the west and to the Mourne Mountains in Ulster.
Another fascinating story of Tara is of recent origin. A group of Israelites came to Tara in the beginning of the 20th Century believing the Arc of the Covenant was buried there! The conducted some digs but alas returned empty handed!
There is so much to see here and maybe more importantly to feel here that an hour on top may only scratch the surface. I have to say I was overwhelmed here, I found Tara incredibly moving and it was easy to be transported back into Irish mythology as I wandered around the Mound of the Hostages, the outer mounds, the multitude of holy wells and as I took in the breath taking views in all directions and contemplated the five ancient roads that linked Tara with the rest of Ireland. An ancient place still resonating today.
I left Tara in a flash, the first downhill I’ve had since Carlow and quickly passed the HQ of the Columban Fathers at Dealgan Park just outside Navan.
I mentioned earlier that St Patrick had confronted the old pagan ways at Tara. My next destination was Slane and it was a real treat and a surprise to cycle along the banks of the Boyne on the old path of the Boyne Canal walkway. It’s a narrow path, slightly overgrown on the sides but with lovely river views which are overlooked by Dunmoe Castle and Ardmulchan Castle and Church.
The path ends after 7kms at Broadboyne bridge and its back on nice country roads to all the way into Slane.
The Hill of Slane, like Tara, stretches back into the mists of time, to the time of the Fir Bolgs and the Tuatha Dé Danann. It was where Patrick chose to light the first paschal fire in 433 AD in defiance of the pagan King Laoighre, who at that time was lighting the Bealtaine fire on the distant Hill of Tara.
Slane Castle, home to Lord Henry Mountcharles, has hosted some of the greatest open air rock concerts in the world – a virtual who’s who from the rock hall of fame U2, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Queen, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Neill Young, Guns N’ Roses, Thin Lizzy….
It’s a pretty little village with a lot of heritage packed in.
The return route took me past Slane Castle entrance on the Navan Road, continuing to Wiggers Cross and back down to Broadboyne Bridge and the Boyne Canal walkway.
Navan to Kells
I avoided the main road to Kells, far too busy, and went via Bohermeen along the Cortown road.
This was a pleasant cycle along well surfaced roads with little traffic through the rich pasture lands of Meath. It wasn’t long until I reached Kells or Ceannanas, another famed Meath Heritage town, steeped in ancient history.
The town is associated with Saint Colmcille who established a monastery here before a dispute over copyright saw him go into exile to the island of Iona. After his death the monks returned to Kells bringing their monastic treasures with them including the Book of Kells which it is thought was completed in Kells.
There are four High Crosses in the grounds of St Columba’s Church and another at the far end of the town, a Round Tower and Columcille’s House all of which are really worth spending a little time to view.
Kells to Virginia
I took the Moynalty road out of Kells and shortly after passing over the River Blackwater I wheeled left onto a minor road which took me all the way to Mullagh, County Cavan and the province of Ulster!
The terrain begins to change from here with small hills or drumlins now a feature. Mullagh Lake is a lovely stopping off point for a short break.
In deciding what route to take, safety has been one of my main concerns and I tried to weave a route along minor roads linking places of interest. The Mullagh – Virginia road was too busy and narrow for my liking and so I took a left along a beautiful road on the northern side of the lake, named as ‘The Golden Mile’. After 1.5kms I continued straight at a t-junction until Fartagh Cross roads a further 1.5kms distant.
This is a lovely bóithrín and a great way to approach Virginia as the main roads are far too busy and I had to use the N3 for the last kilometre into the town.
Lough Ramor is on your left as you approach Virginia.
After two great days cycling off road it was time to hit the asphalt again. Luckily in this country we have an amazing network of local roads that carry little traffic and are quite safe and pleasant to cycle on.
One of the concerns I had about this route before I started was the amount of road cycling involved.
This is still Bog of Allen country and bog roads are liable to be subside, but this road was well surfaced and was very easy cycling as it was all on the level plains of Kildare!
Coill Dubh is a relatively new village established in the 1950s to house workers on the Bord na Móna peat bogs and was reached petty quickly after just 3kms. It’s a name always resonates with me because of the Hurling Club. Funny how some names stick in your head, it was great to pass so many club grounds along this route.
Take a left turn at the t junction on to a road that winds its way for the next couple of kilometres. Good flat roads to the sleepy sráid bhaile of Timahoe which hasn’t seen much excitement since President Richard Nixon visited his ancestral homeland in 1970. His family emigrated from the Quaker settlement here in 1729. There isn’t much to mark the connection though I believe there is a memorial stone on the site of the Quaker burial ground.
Its more famous today as being the home of Kildare GAA sponsors, Brady Ham!
They came up with a great marketing campaign built around a song to the air of ‘Come our Ye Black and Tans’.
“Oh, Brady family ham, well it is your only man. Cured for three whole days and there’s no added water. Sure it’s cooked from one pork joint, unlike others – that’s the point! It tastes just like the ham baked by your mother. Come out you other hams, come and face me ham to ham”
Sure, it was all good craic.
I turned left at their plant onto a minor road but there were no free samples as I passed by!
This was a lovely quiet road that led to Johnstownbridge 10kms away passing by Dunfierth Church Ruins.
Enfield is the neighbouring town over the motorway.
I started the day on the banks of the Grand Canal and now was on the side of the Royal Canal. Enfield’s history goes right back to the time of the High Kings of Ireland and was on one of the five ancient roads that led from the Hill of Tara, where the High Kings were crowned.
Slighe Cualann went SE crossing the Liffey near Dublin and down into Wicklow
Slighe Ascili went West to Loch Owel in Westmeath, dividing the kingdom of Meath in two.
Slighe Midluachra went through Slane, to Eamhain Mach and the north to the Antrim coast
Slighe Mhór joined the Esker Riada near Clonard and on to Galway
Slighe Dala went towards Kilkenny
I was looking forward to getting back off road and joining the Royal Canal for the next leg.
The Royal and Grand Canal are quite different. The Grand was less developed and wilder. The Royal has been developed as a cycling track and it was much easier to cycle but not necessarily better for that! It has much more variety and there were some very pretty places along this section; progress was too easy though and I went way beyond my turning off point as a result!
The Canal skirts the Motorway for the first few kilometres and the constant hum of traffic was off putting but the path was excellent, and it was easy make progress.
The Royal Canal is part of the National Famine Walk route which starts in Strokestown Roscommon and finishes at Spencer Dock in Dublin. It commemorates the 1,490 tenants of Denis Mahon’s estate who were forced to emigrate to Canada from having walked all the way to Dublin. They went from Dublin to Liverpool where the sailed to Quebec on board badly provisioned ships. Almost half of them died on the voyage. Black ’47. We shall never forget.
There are very poignant way markers – sculptures of children’s shoes and if you click on to the website there are ‘shoe stories’ for each of the markers www.nationalfamineway.ie
My journey, in much different circumstances, was taking me in the opposite direction recalling the journey of a much older period, 6th century Ireland when Irish Christianity was spreading out across Europe and I am on the trail of Columbanus of Carlow.
2kms past Fureys is the unusual footbridge Ribbontail Bridge. It is thought the name refers to the movement of the 1800s called Ribbonism. Their supporters were called Ribbon Men and they campaigned against landlordism. Land agitation of course stretched back into the previous century too when there were a number of secret agrarian societies agitating for land reform and tenant rights, usually with romantic names such as The Whiteboys, Peep o’ Day Boys and Defenders.
The canal continues west, and it isn’t long before the path passes over the River Boyne Aqueduct. Is there a more historic river in Ireland than the Boyne? It stretches right back into folklore with the marvellous story of how Fionn Mac Cumhaill gained the knowledge of an Bradán Feasa, or the Salmon of Knowledge.
In short version, when Fionn was a young boy he went to work for the wise old poet Finnegas who lived on the banks of the Boyne. Finnegas knew so much about the birds, animals, and nature than any other man in Ireland and Fionn was there to learn as much as he could from the old man. Finnegas told him about the Salmon of Knowledge. It was as result of eating the nuts of some magical hazel trees that the Salmon had acquired all the knowledge of the world.
And it was prophesied that the one who would eat the Salmon would gain the knowledge for themselves. Finnegas eventually caught an Bradán Feasa and got Fionn to cook it while he went to gather firewood but warned him not to taste it. When he returned the salmon was cooked but while turning it Fionn had burnt his thumb and put it in his mouth to cool it. As a result, he inherited all the knowledge in the world!
That’s always the first image that comes to my mind whenever the Boyne is mentioned!
Local history makes these pilgrim routes so much more interesting and every turn in the road is filled with promise.
I continued onwards as far as the Hill of Down Bridge over the Canal from where I re-joined the road towards Clonard. Unfortunately, I was daydreaming at the time and the cycling was so easy I continued along the canal bank as far as Mary Lynch’s pub at Coralstown – adding 46 kms to my day! I didn’t mind at all as this was a lovely section of the canal.
Eventually I made my way back to the village of Clonard. I didn’t appreciate the connection between Clonard and Columbanus until I arrived there to discover that St Finnian was also associated with the village of Myshall as was Columbanus.
Finnian founded his monastic school here in Clonard in 520AD which has at one stage 3,000 students! A reasonable sized university! He educated some of the most significant Irish monks – the 12 Irish Apostles were taught by him here – among their number was Colmcille, Ciarán of Clonmacnois, Seir Kieran, Brendan and Columba.
There are only ruins remaining now on the outskirts of the village where there is a trough for cures and a well close by.
A beautiful stone baptismal font was removed to the Church in Town which features clear biblical scenes on the side panels. There are also some terrific stained-glass windows celebrating the life of Finnian.
I initially thought Clonard was a strange detour from the pilgrim route, but I was delighted to visit and learn of the association with Columbanus and the importance of St Finnian.
I’ve been slowly chipping away at cycling the proposed pilgrimage route from The Nine Stones on the slopes of Mount Leinster stretching all the way to Bobbio in Italy.
Over the past few months I’ve been doing small sections of the route and I’m really excited about it.
The route will be very varied between Carlow and Bangor in County Down.
Starting with brilliant downhill from Mount Leinster, the route continues along the side of The Barrow Way to Athy and onwards along the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal, through the rich agricultural lands of Royal Meath. That’s as far as I have got so far, I’ve covered over 200kms of the route (but actually done over 320kms as I have to back track to the car each stage).
Here’s a clip of some of the wonders of Ireland’s Ancient East and Turas Columbanus.
I’m blown over by the Hill of Tara. There is something really special about this place; the inauguration seat of Irish High Kings, the place where St. Patrick challenged the ancient religions, a place stretching back to prehistory….. I will post more later!